NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 18 Game Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41, Carolina Panthers 17

Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) runs past Carolina Panthers safety Sam Franklin (42) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by only seven through three quarters, but Tom Brady and company scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to close out a 41-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 18.

The Buccaneers finish the regular season with a 13-4 record and are the No. 2 seed in the NFC following the Los Angeles Rams‘ loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quarterback

Brady closed out the 2021 regular season with an impressive stat line, completing 29-of-37 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs signal-caller had an average time to throw of 2.3 seconds but still netted 8.6 yards per pass attempt. Twenty-one of his 29 completions were within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. Despite the quick release, Brady was effective when throwing down the field, completing 8-of-12 attempts for 200 yards and a touchdown.

Tom Brady by Target Depth

Completion % YPA TDs Passer Rating
9 yards or less 87.5% 5.3 2 116.3
10+ yards 72.7% 18.2 1 145.1
Running back

Without Fournette and Jones, the Bucs didn’t rely heavily on their rushing attack. Ke’Shawn Vaughn started at running back and went for 29 yards and a score on 10 carries. Three of his attempts gained a first down, but none went for over 10 yards.

Le’Veon Bell played in a limited role but turned his only target into a touchdown for his first score of the season.

Wide Receivers/Tight ends

Brady’s connection with Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski is in peak form heading into the playoffs. Evans hauled in six of his seven targets for 89 yards and two touchdowns, while Gronkowski caught seven passes for a season-high 132 yards.

Evans and Gronkowski combined for 10 first downs, seven forced missed tackles and six explosive receptions. Gronkowski’s pending 89.6 offensive grade would be his second-highest mark of the season.

Offensive Line

The Buccaneers' offensive line acted as a brick wall against Carolina, conceding only three pressures in the win. The group suffered eight additional losses but blocked well enough for Brady’s quick release. Ali Marpet was the only one to not lose a single rep in pass protection and earned the highest pass-blocking grade on the team, pending review.

Player Pass-Blocking Snaps Beaten by Defender Pressures Allowed
Alex Cappa 40 2 1
Tristan Wirfs 40 2 0
Ali Marpet 39 0 0
Donovan Smith 39 2 2
Ryan Jensen 39 2 0
Defensive Line

It was tough sledding for the Bucs' defensive line, with Vita Vea being the only one to receive a pass-rush grade north of 65.0 on first review. Vea finished with two pressures and a team-high 15% win rate. The unit generated 13 pressures, and no one registered more than two. Anthony Nelson won on three of his 28 pass-rush reps, one of which ended in a sack.

Linebackers

Devin White and Kevin Minter each played over 50 snaps, although neither graded out particularly well. White and Minter combined for eight defensive stops and three tackles for loss or no gain but also had six missed tackles, which brought each of their defensive grades down. The two linebackers also gave up six receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown in coverage.

Secondary

Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean allowed the most damage on the outside, with each corner giving up at least four receptions for over 40 yards in coverage. Sean Murphy-Bunting also gave up four receptions, one resulting in a touchdown. All three cornerbacks allowed a passer rating above 86.0.

Jordan Whitehead received the highest coverage grade among defensive backs after allowing six yards and forcing two incompletions on three targets.

Player Targets Yards FINC Passer Rating Allowed
Carlton Davis 6 42 1 86.8
Sean Murphy-Bunting 5 29 0 130.4
Antoine Winfield Jr. 1 6 0 91.7
Jordan Whitehead 3 6 2 42.4
Jamel Dean 7 44 0 87.8

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback

For most of the game, Sam Darnold looked to be having one of his best outings since the Panthers' 3-0 start. However, he petered out toward the end and received a disappointing 51.6 passing grade on first review. Darnold completed 29-of-42 attempts for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, with 72% of his yards coming after the catch. The 24-year-old quarterback also made multiple turnover-worthy plays for the seventh time this season.

Most of Darnold’s success actually came under duress, from which he completed 70% of his passes for 62 yards, two touchdowns and one big-time throw.

Sam Darnold Clean vs. Pressured

Dropbacks Completion % YPA TD:INT Passer Rating
Clean pocket 35 68.8% 4.9 0:1 66.8
Under pressure 14 70% 6.2 2:0 125.8
Running back

Despite few touches, Chuba Hubbard succeeded on the ground. He carried the ball nine times for 48 yards, 31 of which came after contact. Three of his carries went for a first down, and two gained at least 10 yards. Hubbard also caught a touchdown pass for the first time this season.

Ameer Abdullah enjoyed similar good fortune in the passing game, catching a game-high nine passes for 56 yards and two first downs. He broke three tackles and gained at least 15 yards on two occasions.

Wide Receivers/Tight ends

D.J. Moore closed out the season with his best performance since Week 12, hauling in seven of his 10 targets for 87 yards and three first downs before exiting the game with an injury. Three of his catches gained at least 15 yards, and he averaged 6.7 yards after the catch per reception.

Robby Anderson’s pending 69.2 offensive grade would be his second-highest of the season after he caught seven passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Outside of Moore and Anderson, no other Panthers receiver or tight end went for over 15 yards.

Offensive Line

Carolina has shuffled its offensive line all season, but this particular unit worked for the most part, as the group allowed 12 pressures on 50 pass-blocking snaps. Trent Scott conceded four pressures, while Brady Christensen lost three reps and gave up one sack.

Every offensive lineman gave up at least one pressure but three — Christensen, Taylor Moton and Michael Jordan — received 80.0-plus pass-blocking grades on first review.

Player Pass-Blocking Snaps Sacks + Hits Beaten by Defender Pressures Allowed
Brady Christensen 50 2 1 2
Michael Jordan 50 0 0 2
Taylor Moton 50 0 0 1
Pat Elfein 46 0 1 1
Trent Scott 32 0 0 4
Defensive Line

Brady was getting rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds on average, which left few opportunities for the Panthers' pass rush. Derrick Brown and Morgan Fox generated the only pressures in the game for the team. The unit won an additional eight times but failed to convert them into a hit or a pressure. 

Linebackers

Shaq Thompson and Jermaine Carter each played over 50 snaps, but neither made a significant impact against the run or in coverage. The two combined for 11 tackles and three defensive stops. Carter missed two tackles in coverage and allowed four receptions on five targets for 60 yards.

Secondary

Down multiple starters, Brady had a field day against a depleted Panthers secondary. The unit gave up 21 receptions on 27 targets for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Myles Hartsfield generated five defensive stops in coverage but conceded nine receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Twelve of the 21 receptions moved the chains, while five gained at least 15 yards. None of Carolina’s defensive backs graded above 62.0 in coverage on first review.

Player Coverage Snaps Targets Yards Passer Rating Allowed
C.J. Henderson 40 7 34 81.8
Kenny Robinson 39 0 0 0.0
Myles Hartsfield 35 10 79 139.2
Sam Franklin 32 3 31 100.7
Keith Taylor 31 4 64 156.3
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